Parents win review of decision to shut down 'unpopular' school

Jeni Harvey

A DECISION to close an “unpopular” secondary school and transfer its pupils elsewhere is being reviewed by councillors in Sheffield.

In December, the council’s cabinet committee voted to close Abbeydale Grange school, in Nether Edge, after it was dubbed “unpopular and failing” by education officials.

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The school currently has just 549 pupils, who will be transferred to High Storrs, King Ecgbert, King Edward VII, Silverdale and Tapton schools when Abbeydale Grange begins its “phased closure” from the summer.

However, the decision to close the school has now been “called-in” for scrutiny by the city’s Labour councillors and will be reviewed at a meeting of Sheffield Council’s children and young people’s policy board on Thursday, January 21.

Prior to the cabinet committee meeting last month, Sheffield Council’s director of education, Dr Sonia Sharp, advised that Abbeydale Grange School could not continue to function.

Fewer than one in 10 parents in the Nether Edge area currently choose the school as their first preference. Many pupils at Abbeydale Grange do not speak English as their first language, and fewer than one in five achieves five GCSE passes at A* to C including English and maths.

Last year, Ofsted inspectors placed the school in “special measures”, but were more positive in a follow-up visit several weeks later.

One of the problems facing Abbeydale Grange is the transient nature of its population. Many pupils are asylum seekers or migrants who are new to Sheffield, including those from the Karen Burmese population, and move in and out of the school during the course of an academic year.

Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Andrew Sangar, rejected claims the closure was to save money and said “low standards and parental preference” were an ongoing problem.

He said: “Abbeydale Grange is the most expensive school in Sheffield. It is expensive per child, attainment is poor and it is unpopular with parents.

“But this has never been driven by revenue costs. We are driven by getting the best education we can for our children.”

He also said that 14m of Government money earmarked for Abbeydale Grange through the Building Schools for the Future programme would be better spent on more popular and sustainable schools.

Although parents and pupils mounted a passionate campaign to save the school, other families in the upmarket Nether Edge area said they supported the closure.

One email to the council read: “As a parent of two primary-age children in the catchment area I would welcome the closure of Abbeydale Grange.

“Of all the local schools it would be the last one I would want my children to go to. By closing it down it would remove the worry that they would lose out in the scramble to go to a school of our choice and end up at a substandard failing school.

“Those parents campaigning to keep it open could always send their children to a different failing school, as unfortunately there are several others to choose from.”

Another parent said: “I believe, sadly, that there is no viable alternative to closing the school down as its reputation among parents is very poor, and its problems viewed as endemic.”

A “transitional programme” for Abbeydale Grange pupils has been drawn up and will cost 263,000, with further staffing costs of 131,000.

The only pupils to remain in Abbeydale Grange after the summer will be those due to take their GCSEs in 2011. Once the exams are finished, the school will close completely.